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Trump mulls picking centrist Fed chair

RAISING INTEREST:Analysts said an appointment of US Federal Reserve board member Jerome Powell would mean a continuation of Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s monetary approach

Reuters, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump is considering nominating US Federal Reserve board member Jerome Powell and Stanford University economist John Taylor for the central bank’s top two jobs in an apparent bid to reassure markets and appease conservatives hungry for change.

Under that scenario, either Powell or Taylor would take the reins from Fed Chair Janet Yellen when her term expires early in February next year and the other would fill the vice chair position left vacant when Stanley Fischer retired this month.

“That is something that is under consideration, but he hasn’t ruled out a number of options. He’ll have an announcement on that soon, in the coming days,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Friday.

Making Powell, a soft-spoken centrist who has supported Yellen’s gradual approach to raising interest rates, the next Fed chief would provide the continuity in monetary policy that investors crave.

The addition of Taylor, who has backed an overhaul of the Fed and embraced a more rigid rule-oriented monetary policy, would be a feather in the cap of conservative Republicans who feel that monetary policy has been too loose under Yellen, who was appointed Fed chair by former US president Barack Obama and has led the central bank since February 2014.

“I think Powell might be the safer pick insofar as we know what we’re getting,” JPMorgan Chase & Co chief US economist Michael Feroli said. “He’s a guy who obviously knows the Fed culture, how the [policy-setting] committee operates, so for some of those soft skills we know he would be effective.”

Powell has embraced Yellen’s monetary policy, keeping the faith that a tighter job market will eventually push wages higher and end a lengthy period of worryingly low inflation.

Taylor has spent the last two decades refining and advocating wider use of a rule that lays out where interest rates ought to be, given certain conditions of inflation and the broader economy. His rule implies that rates should be higher than they are now.

Although Taylor is highly regarded within the Fed, his rule-based rate-setting position has spurred criticism that he would handcuff US monetary policy.

Taylor pushed back at a meeting at the Boston Fed yesterday, saying he favored a flexible implementation of policy rules and did not want to tie the Fed’s hands or suggest that he was motivated by a distrust of policymakers.

“I think that’s completely incorrect,” he said. “I trust policymakers; [rules] are an effort to make policy better.”

Some analysts suggest that fears that Taylor would bring an inflexible monetary policy with him to the Fed, as some Republicans in Congress hope, are likely exaggerated.

“There is some scope for disappointment if people think putting Taylor in will just lead to mechanical-based policy,” Feroli said.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, speaking with reporters on Friday, seemed to agree.

“Even if you pick a rule, the rule itself would need to be modified given the structure of the economy,” she said. “But I do think being systematic, looking at the kinds of information we look at systematically over time, articulating our strategy for policy and being less discretionary is a good idea.”

Although he appears to be tilting to Powell and Taylor, in addition to Yellen, the Republican president has interviewed White House Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn and former Fed board member Kevin Warsh for the Fed chair position.

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